A triathlete and a fitness trainer share some of the lessons they’ve learned about the importance of good oral care.
Healthy teeth and gums play an essential role in overall health, especially for people that prioritize intense training and high performance as the main focus of their daily routines. Let’s hear from two athletes who have experienced the consequences of ignoring the close connection between mouth health and sports performance.
Triathlete Andreas Böcherer: “If you want to perform at your highest level, infection is something you strictly need to avoid”
Andreas Böcherer is a German triathlete who has participated in and won a number of local and European triathlon championships, including the famously long and rigorous Ironman competition.
Things took an unfortunate turn for him last autumn, when a serious jaw infection prevented him from competing in the prestigious Kona Ironman in Hawaii after months of preparation. “This experience has changed things a lot. Now, I am working together with a dentist who specializes in sports and is very experienced in working with all kinds of high-performance professionals. Before my highlight races I have him check my teeth [to make sure] everything is perfect and there is not even the smallest infection,” Andi explains.
“My biggest recommendation is to avoid sports drinks during training. It affects the teeth more than you think; that is why I now train just on water most of the time.”
Since then, Andreas has become much more aware of the connection between dental health and the wellness of the whole body: “Any kind of small infection will keep your immune system busy and draw energy from the system. If you want to perform at your highest level, infection is something you strictly need to avoid.”
During the last year, Andreas has started to take better care of his teeth and gums. In addition to regular toothbrushing and interdental cleaning, he also wears a night guard to prevent grinding. “During high training load intervals, I would tend to chew on my teeth at night. With the guard in place, my teeth are protected, I sleep deeper and better and I feel more relaxed.”
When it comes to the oral health of active athletes, he mentions one more thing that he says cannot be ignored: “My biggest recommendation is to avoid sports drinks during training. It affects the teeth more than you think; that is why I now train just on water most of the time.”
Runner and fitness trainer Imke Salander: “You have only one body, you have one set of teeth, one pair of legs… and you need to look after them”
With more than 131k followers, Germany’s Imke Salander has one of the most influential fitness accounts on Instagram. She has embraced physical activity since childhood, and today she shares her passion for running and fitness workouts via her vlogs, social media posts and podcasts, as well as by attending fitness events and doing personal training for athletes.
Imke describes her actual role in motivating other people: “I’m trying to show people that participating in sports doesn’t have to be just about competing against other people, that it’s more about competing against yourself – making yourself realize that you can do it. Although your head might be telling you that you can’t do it, your body is actually capable of doing it.”
Imke Salander is definitely aware of the importance of overall health that must be in place to support a beautiful, toned body. “It is quite a common concept to say that health means balance, but I think it’s really true. I believe that a healthy state does not come only through eating vegetables, going to bed early and always looking after your body perfectly.
I believe that being healthy means that your mind also needs to be healthy. And even though we eat sweets and other things that might not be that great for our body, sometimes we feel compelled to eat them to keep our mind healthy! It’s really important to maintain a balance and to remind yourself that you have only one body, you have one set of teeth, one pair of legs… and you need to look after them.“
“We use our teeth every day and proper oral care is something that, as sportspersons in particular, we really have to pay attention to.”
One bad experience convinced Imke to improve her oral care. “I had an infection in my teeth and I couldn’t train properly for a week. I felt really weak, my whole body was really weak because it was fighting against the inflammation and didn’t have enough energy for the hard physical activity. So now I know that problems in the mouth can have a huge impact on my training.”
“We use our teeth every day, and proper oral care is something that, as sportspersons in particular, we really have to pay attention to,” the athlete says.
Imke also realizes that not all athletes are aware of the importance of oral health. “My experience is that it’s getting better, but people still neglect their oral health. Also, they don’t realize how much stress they’re actually putting on their teeth while doing sports.”
Her bad experience has inspired Imke to take better care of her mouth: “After talking to my dentist a few months ago, I really make sure that I don’t just brush my teeth only for a few seconds, but that I actually pay a lot of attention to brushing all the surface areas of my teeth.”
“I also use interdental brushes. When I brush interdentally, I always find something there in the little spaces between teeth. This was really surprising for me because, in the past, I paid absolutely no attention to the interdental spaces. This routine is definitely helpful for me… I haven’t suffered any inflammation since I started to practice better care.”
Photo credits: Felix Samuel Hoffmann, Marcel Hilger, Welin Nagyová, archive of Andreas Böcherer, archive of Imke Salander